A med & grad student who used to work the line in LA, NYC, SF and Napa talking about the science of cooking and cooking with science. Harold McGee's On Food And Cooking - The Science and Lore of the Kitchen never satisfied my kitchen curiosity and more than one Chef grew exasperated with my asking "Why?" I'll try to stay on topic, but you may see a kvetch or two about the school & hospital.
My posts are presented as opinion and commentary and do not represent the views of LabSpaces Productions, LLC, my employer, or my educational institution.
Please wait while my tweets load
Ketchup. A condiment ubiquitous to the American household. I don't think any condiment evokes more flavor memories for Americans. Nor does any condiment have as many rules. Ketchup with fries? Check. Ketchup on a hot dog? Not in NYC, OK on the West Coast. You can put it on a burger, but I will stab you if I ever see you put it on a steak I've made for you. And in 1981 the USDA, under the Reagan Administration, proposed classifying it as a vegetable for the school lunch program. It didn't happen.
School lunches are hit or miss. I remember pre-made, mass produced crap. Chicken nuggets. "Enchiladas." "French bread" "pizzas." Grey green beans. Neon orange carrots. Spongy, soft, sweet rolls. These are not flavors or memories I cherish. I was the kid with the "weird" food. I grew up in a Filipino household. My best friend's mom worked the line at a high end restaurant in SF, and her dad was the sous chef at another Italian restaurant. The flavors I remember best growing up were of sardines in oil alongside eggs at breakfast; fresh avocado everywhere; fresh fish prepared whole in a number of ways (the eyes are still one of my favorites); snacking on gizzards while I watched my uncles play poker. Sure, I had the usual burgers and hot dogs and pizzas, but the food I loved was not typical. My brother and my cousins have similar taste profiles, to an extent. We never liked balut (you can google that one on your own). And my brother is the only person I know who willingly ate boiled octopus at the age of 4. It was as much having the opportunity to try a lot of foods as it was growing up in a culture with certain flavor profiles.
About two years ago I came across the blog What's For School Lunch and some of the pictures still annoy me. Case in point, a French lunch featuring mussels, a whole artichoke, a tart, some grapefruit and frites. I call shenanigans. I would have killed for this meal at school. And a lot of the other meals from other countries upsets me. Whole fish, tempura, udan, paella (check the link to Spain), slow braised pork. I feel so very cheated. And it costs $5-6 in France. With some meals delivered for $2.50? And daycare meals, including snacks and breakfast, is $2. This is well within the USDA's parameters for the school lunch program. So why aren't our kids being served this in schools?
But there is some relief on the horizon. Alice Waters started the Edible Schoolyard program in Berkeley, California. Through her Chez Panisse Organization, Waters and her foundation turned a 1 acre lot into a functioning produce garden. Started in 1995, the program used food from a local organic farm until the lot became productive in 1997. Everything from the farm gets used in the lunches at Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School. The program also opened up cooking classes for students, letting them help in the preparation of meals and snacks and giving them valuable experience handling real ingredients. That is, ingredients that have not been pre-prepped. And processed foods have been largely eliminated from the program. The garden is largely self sustaining, and the labor for the garden is provided by students, volunteers and AmeriCorps.
The program has been considered an incredible success, and has spawned "sister programs" in New Orleans, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Brooklyn and Greensboro. In addition, other communities and schools have started looking into converting unused lots and space into gardens. The USDA recently announced a concept for Powell Elementary School in Washington, DC.
The Edible Schoolyard concept has, of course, its critics. When the program was first announced in Berkeley, many parents thought it was demeening to have their kids take "Home Ec," or it would take away from time in the sciences, mathematics and language. All of these are very important to me. I wouldn't be in medicine if they weren't, but the fears just seemed to be so much smoke. And then there's the ever Caitlin Flanagan, who attempted to take Waters to task over, well, I'm not too sure what book Flanagan was reviewing. Because if it was Waters' biography, then she seemed to spend way too much time attempting to slam the Edible Schoolyard program. In fact, I'm not even going to bother a defense of Chef Waters, or attempt to excorciate Flanagan, as Ed Levine accomplishes both tasks exceptionally well at Serious Eats.
While I have not seen any serious studies done yet on whether these garden programs are a benefit to student academics, I can't imagine they're a detriment to the development of anyone. Child or adult. It's easy to watch a kid devour a candy bar. The wide eyed smile that crosses their face at the first taste of chocolate. Or how it scrunches up when they try their first Warheads. And I get it. Sometimes for parents it's easier to give in to a child's desires. But, shouldn't we attempt more? Shouldn't we introduce them to the tart, rich sweetness of a passion fruit or the strong sweet flavor of an in season tangerine? Couldn't we, as a society, give them flavors that go well beyond lean beef, lean chicken, lean pork, breaded, fried, oversalted, overly sweet, bland and homogenized beige? That's what Alice Waters, and everyone who has donated, volunteered or works with the Edible Schoolyards are attempting.
This post has been viewed: 327 time(s)
I think it'd be awesome if schools looked into growing their own produce. A class in sustainability and gardening would really be beneficial and healthy all at the same time. It seems like a win-win idea to me!
I was in the Phils last year, and didn't have the ... will... to try Balut. They came round on Boracay beach at about 12:30 am.
The gardening programme could be tied into so much more - to characterize it as 'home ec' is completely short-sighted (not that you did, I'm aware).
Environmental Studies? Biology? Chemistry? Economics? Health? You name a classical subject and food/ag can benefit from it. This should be compulsory, and every subject can benefit from its presence, not just 'home ec'.
@Brian - I imagine it would also bring down the cost of fresh produce. I know many districts pick less healthy fruit and veg options, such as fruit in heavy syrup or overcooked and oversalted/buttered vegetables, because it's cheaper than fresh. Getting this good stuff early to kids could go a long way to getting them to keep eating it later on in life. I remember when I was around 10 or so, a friend joined my family for dinner. He was amazed that we were eating brussel sprouts. I didn't think anything of it, but he just did not know of any other kids that ate them. Go figure. I grew up with them. They're not leaving my diet anytime soon.
@Psycasm - I would never equate the Edible Garden project with just Home Ec. Not that there's anything wrong with Home Ec. Heck, I feel Home Ec should be a required course given the reliance on ready quick meals that seems to be creeping up (at least in the US). I understand convenience, cost and expedience, but there's just something, at least, I find personally much more appealing about making my own meals. Even if it's just a simple plate of pasta drizzled with olive oil and fresh herbs.
I would so love to see some of the profs I had in and around UC Berkeley give guest lectures or whatever at MLK Jr. Middle School. Going beyond just the basics of agriculture and what they do in the garden, and really applying what we know about Agricultural, Environmental and Food Science for the kids involved.